Increasing numbers of families in Britain are struggling to feed and clothe their children, according to Save the Children. Parents are often going without themselves in order to ensure their children eat properly and the strain is tearing families apart.
Many British, or other incomer, families in France are struggling to make a living and find themselves in much the same situation.
It gets harder and harder to find the money for cantine bills, sports equipment, extra-curricular activities, school trips and even visits to the dentist or optician.
The problem can be made worse by the language barrier, the difficulties of navigating the French social security system and not knowing what help is available.
Financial difficulties, as we all know, are not good for children as they so often lead to parents shouting at each other, getting depressed, drinking heavily and families starting to fall apart.
So, do go to http://www.kidsinfrance.com/p/benefits.html and check if there is anything you think you might be entitled to but are not getting.
If your income is very low, you should also find out if you qualify for the RSA (income support). The threshold is pretty low – around 900€ a month for a family of four, for example. Find out if you might qualify here: http://www.caf.fr/aides-et-services/les-services-en-ligne/estimer-vos-droits
Providing the necessary paperwork and applying for the RSA is a nightmare, but it is worth sticking it out if you believe you qualify as entitlement to the RSA brings numerous other benefits including free health insurance, education grants, help with rent, mortgage payments fuel bills, children's' transport costs as well as loans for essential domestic equipment.
Even if you are not entitled to the RSA, if your income is low you may be entitled to some of the benefits.
Ask at your CAF or, better still, ask to see an assistante sociale. Both your mairie, or, if you prefer, your local CAF, can put you in touch. The assistante sociale will look at your situation and advise what help might be available. They can also intervene on your behalf over unpaid bills, e.g. electricity and work out a deferred payment solution which will avoid you being cut off or chased by huissiers (bailiffs).
If they think you are entitled to RSA, do get them to help you fill out the forms and prepare your paperwork–they are used to doing this and know what is needed. We, on the other hand, are almost bound to get something wrong!
Of course, some assistantes sociale excellent and will fight on your behalf for any benefits you should be receiving; others are jobsworths. In both cases, information can be hard to come by unless you ask specific questions such as: can I get help with my electricity bill, can I get a reduction on my child's bus pass etc.
For difficulties specifically relating to school costs – cantine, trips, etc. – ask to see the assistante sociale attached to the school.The secretariat will put you in touch.